GLAAD Media Institute alum Matthew LaBanca shares his story of exclusion from the Catholic Church through his one man show Communion. The play based on his own real life experiences explores themes of spiritual trauma from a LQBTQ perspective.
Communion releases as the two-year anniversary of the discriminatory termination of LaBanca’s role as a music teacher and parish music director at Corpus Christi Church and St. Joseph Catholic Academy approaches. Both institutions are based in his longtime community of Queens. The Diocese of Brooklyn who ordered his firing claimed that LaBanca, because of his marriage to his partner Rowan Meyer, could no longer fulfill his duties as a “minister” of the Church despite his lack of a pastoral position.
When offered a severance package of $20,000 in return for his silence via a non-disclosure agreement, the actor and playwright showed immense courage. He used the situation as an opportunity to highlight the legal loopholes which allow religious institutions to further marginalize the LGBTQ community through sudden loss of employment. In fact this situation, if not for the unique privilege religious institutions possess, would otherwise be blatantly illegal under New York state law. Knowing this, LaBanca, with GLAAD Media Institute’s support and advice on how to tell his story through the media, advocated not just for himself, but for other queer people of faith who have been discriminated against by religious authority. In a recent interview with the GLAAD Media Institute vice president Ross Murray, LaBanca recalls his letters to the Catholic Church writing,
“The impact from this firing, this termination, should you choose to go through with it…the fallout from this is going to be huge! And they did. And it was. But maybe it’s the waves that are necessary to make change.”
With that said, his play, which has twice been extended at the Cell Theatre in New York City, and which sold out its first weekend, is a reminder of the pain and division that prejudice spreads throughout religious communities. The timeliness of Communion cannot be understated. The Pope in a historic move on Oct. 2 approved the blessing of same sex unions by pastoral ministers while it seems that other Catholic leadership is still struggling to acknowledge, let alone accept queer Catholics. This is not the first time that the Pope has expressed his support for the community, in January of this year he declared that “Homosexuality is not a crime” and denounced the 70 countries which criminalize it. Sarah Kate Ellis GLAAD president and CEO issued the following statement in response to the news,
“Pope Francis’ response is both unprecedented and compassionate and continues to urge every Catholic and leader toward acceptance and recognition of LGBTQ people. The Pope has consistently elevated the dignity of LGBTQ people. He has now extended his call for affirmation to our relationships by noting they, too, are sacred and deserving of respect. The Holy Father repeatedly reminds Catholics and Church leadership to accept rather than exclude and condemn. Pope Francis’ leadership recognizes the lived reality that LGBTQ people exist, that we form partnerships and families, and that we need the support of our communities, including our churches. This is not full marriage recognition, but it will make a significant difference in the lives of LGBTQ families and create a Catholic Church open to all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The GLAAD Media Institute is proud to have assisted LaBanca in his public whistleblowing and supports his activism through the arts. Patrons can now purchase tickets, with limited availability, for the final three performances for this iteration of Communion by visiting Cell theatre’s website. Showtimes are this weekend, October 6-8, with two 7 p.m. shows on Friday & Saturday and a 3 p.m. show on Sunday.